COX'S BAZAR • A boat taking Rohingya Muslim refugees to Bangladesh capsized and at least 12 people, most of them children, drowned, police said yesterday, the latest victims of violence in Myanmar that has forced more than half a million people to flee.
The boat sank near Shah Porir Dwip, on the southern tip of Bangladesh, late on Sunday.
Bangladeshi fishermen have been cramming their boats since late August with desperate Rohingya fleeing a Myanmar security crackdown that the United Nations has denounced as ethnic cleansing.
Bangladeshi police officer Mohammed Mainuddin said 12 bodies - 10 children, one woman and a man - had been found. A Reuters photographer earlier saw the bodies of four children, two women and a man washed up on a beach.
The authorities said 13 people had been rescued.
Some 519,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since Aug 25, when attacks by Rohingya militants on police and military posts in Rakhine state sparked a ferocious response from Myanmar's security forces.
Myanmar rejects accusations of ethnic cleansing and has labelled the militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, who launched the initial attacks, as terrorists. The insurgents declared a one-month ceasefire from Sept 10, which was to end at midnight yesterday. The ability of the group, which only surfaced in October last year, to mount any sort of challenge to the Myanmar army is not known but it does not appear to have been able to resist the military offensive unleashed.
It would be difficult for the insurgents to operate in areas where the military has driven out Rohingya civilians, in the north of Rakhine state, near the border with Bangladesh. The insurgents said in a statement last Saturday that they were ready to respond to any peace move by the Myanmar government, but also noted that the ceasefire was about to end.
More than six weeks after the violence erupted, Rohingya continue to arrive in Bangladesh, which was home to 400,000 members of the Myanmar Muslim minority even before the latest crisis. Mostly Buddhist Myanmar does not recognise the Rohingya as citizens, even though many have lived in Rakhine for generations.
Myanmar state media has in recent days reported that "large numbers" of Muslims were set to cross the border. It cited their reasons as "livelihood difficulties", health problems, a "belief" of insecurity and fear of becoming a minority.
But even as refugees arrive, Bangladesh is insisting that they will all have to go home.
Myanmar has responded by saying that it will take back those who can be verified as genuine refugees. Most Rohingya are stateless and many fear they will not be able to prove their right to return.